Despite being on the verge of his Octagon debut on Saturday after scoring five pro MMA wins and five finishes, Josh Quinlan isn’t one of those fighters who was chasing this UFC dream since the first time he saw the sport. Even now, he isn’t sure where this all ends up for him.
“Even when I stepped into a martial arts gym, I didn't think I was even gonna be a fighter,” said Quinlan, who faces Jason Witt in San Diego. “I was nervous in those situations. The only reason I entered a martial arts gym is to gain confidence and learn how to handle myself in those situations. I always kind of shied away from it or wasn't as courageous when those situations presented themselves, so it was a challenge for me overcoming that fear, overcoming that anxiety. Each fight is a challenge, each fight, some type of those feelings come up, but I have faith in God and he's never let me down, and whether I win or lose, I know he'll keep me safe and provide the best outcome for each situation.”
It's an honest assessment of a young man who doesn’t put on airs when a microphone is in his face or when he types out a social media post. He admits that this sport can be a scary one at times, but that once he scored a flash knockout of an undefeated foe in his fifth amateur fight, he also knew that he might be good enough to do something with his talent. That first meant taking a step into the pro ranks, which he did in 2019. After that, he was going to play it by ear.
“When I decided to go professional and take it a little more serious, I didn't know if I was gonna be able to fight in the UFC,” said Quinlan. “I didn't know if I was gonna make it to this elite level, but I knew I wanted to do my best and see how far I could take it, and this is a step in that direction. I don't know if I'm gonna take it two years in the UFC or maybe I'll take it longer and make it to the Top Ten, but I'm going in with the right intentions and not doing anything that would make me regret anything. I'm going all-in on this and see how far I can take it.”
He's taken it pretty far for just having six pro fights. And if you see the 5-0 record and wonder where the sixth fight is, after a win over Logan Urban last September on Dana White’s Contender Series that earned him a UFC contract, a post-fight drug test saw him test positive for the banned substance drostanolone, overturning the victory to a no contest. Quinlan lost the win and was suspended for nine months, but he kept his new contract and hopes for a fresh start, beginning with the Witt fight.
“I took responsibility for my mistake and understood that the opportunity could be taken away from you in an instant,” said Quinlan. “I just took it as a learning lesson. It made me see how important the opportunity was and how important this is to me, and I wouldn't trade it for anything. And even though there wasn't much cash flow or financial stability in the last nine months, God has blessed me and provided for me, and he kept the path open for me. I'm going to continue walking with him and there's a lot of growth that happened through the nine months and I was able to bond with my coach, Michael Costa, a great mentor to me, and also my other coaches are great role models, so I was able to soak in the knowledge and apply it and broaden my skills as a martial artist, and also mature as a person. And that's what life's about.”
It was a hard lesson for the 29-year-old Hawaii native to learn, especially this early in his career, but an important one, and he would like UFC fans to judge him on what happens from here on out, not the past. As for his time on the sidelines, Quinlan did his best to make it work for him.
“I treated it as a blessing in disguise,” he said. “I trained hard, I trained consistent and was able to elevate myself and my skills, as well as appreciate the lifestyle of being able to train full-time. I trained full-time leading up to my Contender fight, and that was a three-month fight camp, and since my time off, I was able to continue that regimen and appreciate that lifestyle. It was very challenging trying to dial it in, not overtraining but not undertraining, and exploring some new opportunities in other gyms. It was a great process. I'm always grounded with my coaches at Wand Fight Team and I was able to expand to some 10th Planet training with Coach Casey (Halstead) and his fight team.”
Now all that’s left is to make a good first impression. And who knows, maybe Quinlan will stick around for a while.
“I am debuting in the UFC, and it is a higher level, but I believe I've been putting in the work, and each year leading up to this has got me ready for it, and I know once I have this debut fight, it's gonna show the skill and I believe I'm gonna continue on this path,” he said. “I'm thinking about one fight at a time, taking each fight as a challenge, an opportunity to show your skill and see what you have to work on. It's a learning process and I have a good opponent to prove myself and prove my skills, and I hope we bring the best out of each other. I know we will.
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